Back when TV sitcoms were obsessed with detailing domestic life, The Munsters offered a very different take on the American family. Its characters were modeled after classic Universal Studio monsters, and they took trying to fit in to a whole new level. The ’60s show was a syndication hit — even though it only lasted two seasons. And we bet you’re wondering what happened to Herman, Lily, Marilyn, Eddie, and Grandpa. Here are their stories after the cameras stopped rolling.
Al Lewis (Grandpa)
It goes without saying that The Munsters had a cast of peculiar characters. But none of these fantastical creations were ever as unconventional as Grandpa actor Al Lewis. From working in a circus to becoming a war hero during World War II, Lewis experienced a life few writers could ever dream up.
Becoming a Munster
Lewis’ way into The Munsters began on the show Car 54, Where Are You? There, the vaudevillian actor — who played the cop Leo Schnauser — bonded with co-star Fred Gwynne. And the pair’s connection on-screen and off would make CBS nab them both for their new sitcom.
Good vibes on set
Cast alongside his pal, Lewis had no trouble slipping into the cape of The Munsters’ wacky grandpa Sam Dracula. And soon enough, the actor settled into a rich and rewarding workplace. In conversation with the Archive of American Television in 2002, Lewis recalled how, “We all helped each other, and we did it on camera with that passion and enthusiasm.”
When The Munsters ended in 1966, Lewis rode his wave of fame into other projects such as 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Yet tragedy meant the star would have to put his career momentarily on hold. Following his wife’s injury in a car accident, Lewis devoted himself fully to being her carer.
Digging out the ol' costume
Upon his wife’s recovery, the star slipped back into the acting world. But while many actors would have tried to get away from their most iconic characters, Lewis gladly took on any requests to revisit his most famous creation. He even donned his Grandpa costume once again for a residency at Universal Studios.
In his later years, Lewis remained as unique as he had when he was a young man. And besides gaining new fame as a regular guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, the star opened his own restaurant and even ran as Governor of New York. He died in 2006 aged 83.
Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster)
While studying acting, Fred Gwynne’s teacher took him aside to say something no budding thespian ever wants to hear. Presumably looking up at his student’s 6 ft 5 frame, the teacher admitted he didn’t see a future for Gwynne in acting. The reason? His pupil simply was too tall.
But little did they know that Gwynne’s colossal size would lead to his biggest-ever role. Having already made a name for himself in NBC’s Car 54, Where Are You?, the actor was an easy fit for The Munsters’ patriarch Herman. And with his statue-like presence, Gwynne could breathe life into this Frankenstein-esque character.
So suited for Herman was Gwynne that his performances inevitably stole every scene. Even The New York Times — in their initial write-up of the series — admitted that the actor was “the whole show.” Yet while it gave him nationwide popularity, for Gwynne The Munsters turned into something of a nightmare.
Sadness behind the scenes
The character’s heavy attire and thick make-up made filming physically demanding. Around this time, as well, the actor suffered a personal tragedy that left grey clouds over the era. Gwynne rarely talked about filming The Munsters, a fact writer Stephen Cox attributed to this painful memory during a chat with Closer Weekly in 2020.
Retreating from the spotlight
Around the time of The Munsters, Gwynne had tragically lost his son. Coupled with a lack of TV work post-Munsters, the actor pulled away from the spotlight. But he still gained success as a character actor in the theater, and he even found a new passion for illustrating children’s books.
The odd film project
And Gwynne didn’t entirely disappear from our screens. After reprising Herman in 1981’s The Munsters’ Revenge, the star gained a slew of film offers most notably with 1989’s Pet Sematary. For his last role before his 1993 death, Gwynne was praised for his comical portrayal of Judge Haller in My Cousin Vinny. Who can forget that, right?
Mel Blanc (The Raven)
If the name Mel Blanc is drawing a “blank” — sorry — then you’ll be instantly familiar with his cast of characters. Bugs Bunny; Daffy Duck; Barney Rubble — the prolific artist voiced them all alongside many others. And that’s why the performer was dubbed “The Man of a Thousand Voices” during his lifetime.
Considering how prolific Blanc was, perhaps it’s no surprise that the entertainer appeared on The Munsters as well. Well, his voice did, anyway — for six episodes he played the family’s cuckoo clock. Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, the Raven would often interject the action with his catchphrase, “Nevermore.”
A turning point
Even though this arguably wasn’t Blanc’s most famous role, the Raven still had some significance. The part was actually the actor’s first-recurring slot on a live-action series. Yet Blanc no doubt had his other voiceover work to thank for maintaining his legacy long after his 1989 death.
Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster)
Once dubbed by Universal Studios as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Yvonne De Carlo wasn’t your average TV star — far from it. The glamorous actress had a whole host of cinema credits under her belt long before joining The Munsters. This big screen experience in turn made her a perfect choice for Lily Munster.
Brave and bold
Initially trained as a dancer, De Carlo moved to Hollywood at the age of 18. And she got her first weighty role in 1945’s Salome, Where She Danced before appearing in big hits such as 1956’s The Ten Commandments. Plus she helped inspire a whole heap of future stars including Sophia Loren.
Yet the beginning of the 1960s would not be so kind to De Carlo. Following an on-set injury to her husband stuntman Bob Morgan, the actress fell into a state of financial difficulty. And it was this precarious situation that led De Carlo to reluctantly sign up for The Munsters in 1964.
A rocky start
Going from the big screen to television wasn’t an easy thing for actors at the time. But by far the biggest gripes came from De Carlo’s co-stars Lewis and Gwynne who reportedly felt threatened by her celluloid stardom. Yet De Carlo’s work ethic quickly won over her insecure colleagues.
De Carlo herself soon got over her initial quibbles when The Munsters’ success put her back on the national stage. In her 1987 memoir Yvonne, the actor recalled how, “[The show] meant security. It gave me a new, young audience I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It made me ‘hot’ again, which I wasn’t for a while.”
This new audience included famous composer Stephen Sondheim. And for his 1971 musical Follies, Sondheim wrote the character Carlotta Campion with De Carlo in mind. Her virtuoso performance then left theater fans in awe. Having made huge ripples in film, TV, and Broadway, the star left a huge legacy behind at the time of her 2007 death.
Pat Priest (Marilyn Munster)
In a show about oddballs and outsiders, Marilyn Munster stuck out like a sore thumb. Yet the character always found her place within the family who accepted her, despite her wildly different appearance. And in keeping with the show’s tone, the blonde-haired Marilyn was even jokingly portrayed as the ugly duckling.
Touch and go
Although Marilyn was played by two actresses during The Munsters’ run, Pat Priest is perhaps best remembered for the role. Brought in to replace original star Beverley Owen, the character was Priest’s first big part. It could also have been her last, too, had an altercation with her on-screen aunt scared the actress off.
Speaking to Senior Voice in 2020, Priest revealed how her first scene with movie idol Yvonne De Carlo turned ugly. “Yvonne turned to me and said, ‘Let’s get something straight now, young lady,’” the star remembered, “‘don’t you ever upstage me.’ Man, I jumped back and didn’t care if I spent the rest of the series in the dark!”
Yet Priest — then just 28 years old — didn’t let her more experienced co-star intimidate her. And the starlet remained in the role for the remaining 57 episodes. Sadly, her contract ended before production of the film spin-off Munsters, Go Home! leading the “devastated” Priest to be replaced by the younger Debbie Watson.
With The Munsters behind her, Priest went on to star alongside screen icons like Elvis Presley and Betty White. Overall, though, her future roles never reached the size of Marilyn Munster. But Priest has few regrets. “I’ve done everything I wanted to do and gone everywhere I wanted to go,” she said.
Beverley Owen (Marilyn Munster)
As the original Marilyn Munster, Beverley Owen made an impression on many viewers. Yet by far, her biggest fan was co-star Butch Patrick who admitted to Parade in 2013 that a trip to the cinema with her left the young actor lovesick. “I like to consider it my first date, but actually it was just a nice person taking me to a movie,” he said.
Opening the show
Producers were certainly confident in Owen’s ability to win people over. So much so that they made her the first actor to gain screen time on the show. In The Munsters’ very first episode, Marilyn opens the series through a funny scene in which she invites a nervous boyfriend home to meet her family.
Seeing her potential
Getting her start behind the scenes, Owen began as a typist. But her secretarial skills reportedly left a lot to be desired, and former employer Ed Sullivan fired her. Yet network heads saw Owen’s potential in front of the camera, leading to starring slots in shows like As the World Turns and eventually The Munsters.
Left acting behind
But Owen’s time on screen proved to be short-lived. During production of The Munsters, the actress became engaged to producer Jon Stone. And following their marriage, she departed the series altogether. Save for a few episodes of Another World, Owens practically left her acting life behind.
Family and studies
After walking away from show business, Owen devoted time to her family as well as academia. The former star even earned a master’s in American history. She sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 81, and her co-star Patrick led the tributes on Facebook. “What a sweet soul,” he lamented.
Bob Hastings (The Raven)
The Munsters drew from a wide array of talent to portray even the smallest characters. And besides beloved voice actors such as Mel Blanc, the show also employed the talents of character-actor Bob Hastings. Alternating with Blanc, Hastings voiced the Raven in ten episodes as well as 1981’s The Munsters’ Revenge.
Where else you’ll have seen him
Getting his big break in radio, Hastings became a fixture of TV sitcoms such as The Phil Silvers Show. At one point he even shared the screen with Lewis and Gwynne in an episode of Car 54, Where Are You? At the time of filming The Munsters, though, Hastings was probably most famous as Lt. Elroy from McHale’s Navy.
But the actor is perhaps most strongly linked, in modern times anyway, with voice acting in animated shows. And fans of Batman: The Animated Series will no doubt recognize him as the voice behind Commissioner James Gordon. After eight decades of work, Hastings passed away aged 89 in 2014.
Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster)
Many stars owe their success to the encouragement of family members. And for Butch Patrick — who played little Eddie on The Munsters — his life in showbiz was possible thanks to his sister Michele. While waiting on an audition one day, the older sibling began talking about her brother, which piqued her casting agent’s interest.
Perfect for the role
Pretty soon Patrick was on his way to stardom with roles in the likes of The Two Little Bears. But it wasn’t until The Munsters in 1964 that the actor really sunk his fangs into a role — literally. Bagging the part from 500 other hopefuls, Patrick attributed his success to his then oversized canines which made him perfect for werewolf Eddie.
Beyond his years
Even though the 11-year-old actor was the youngest performer on set, Patrick’s maturity made an impression on his co-stars. “They used to call me a 39-year-old midget because they thought I was wise beyond my years,” he joked to People in 2020. Because of this, writers began giving him weightier scenes including many with on-screen dad Gwynne.
His career afterward
After the series ended in 1966, Patrick picked up guest spots on shows such as Gunsmoke and The Monkees. By far the actor’s biggest part, though, came in 1971 with the lead role in the fantasy series Lidsville. And yet this experience would be brief – the show lasted just one season.
Change of direction
And eventually, Patrick grew tired of acting. So the former-child star picked up a bass guitar and began making his own music. But while his rock ‘n’ roll ambitions came to fruition with a single released in 1983, Patrick was far from putting The Munsters behind him. On the contrary, his debut song was titled “Whatever Happened to Eddie?”
It would take the budding musician almost 25 years to release a follow-up single. But in that time Patrick seemed to regain his love of acting through parts in The Simpsons and Macabre Theater. And today he’s a regular of conventions and recently began work on his own Munsters-inspired escape rooms. Having witnessed all that happened on set, Patrick is seemingly the best man for this job. On some days things could get a little dramatic...
Big change after the pilot
Once the producers had assembled their dream cast, it was time to film a pilot. That episode, however, ended up looking very different when compared to the rest of the series. That first installment was shot in color, while the rest of the show was famously in black and white. But what prompted the studio to make that change?
There are several theories as to why The Munsters switched its format, but the most obvious explanation is money. It was simply cheaper to film in black and white than to produce a series in color, which was only starting to become more common on primetime shows. But there are other possibilities that relate to the creative direction of the series.
It's also possible that a color version of The Munsters would have been unsettling rather than humorous, as the family's bluish skin did look a bit corpse-like, after all. On top of that, having Frankenstein's creature, Dracula, and other characters in black and white hearkened back to Universal's original monster movies. That connection gave the show a nostalgic feel and helped viewers immediately relate to the characters.
Straight out of Frankenstein's lab
The Munsters had another link to monster movies of the past, however. Special effects technician Kenneth Strickfaden built Grandpa's lab using the same beakers and tubes from the original 1931 Frankenstein film. They were in pretty good shape, considering they were decades old! And this lab set wasn't the only prop with an unusual backstory.
The Munster Koach
The family got around in the Munster Koach, which was built at Barris Kustoms. The vehicle was a 1926 Ford Model T with a custom hearse chassis; it stretched nearly 18 feet from bumper to bumper. Although the car is one of the most recognizable parts of the sitcom, its designer only received $200 for his blueprints! Now that is truly scary.
A bit of a DRAG
Diehard fans might remember that there was actually a second spooky automobile that appeared on The Munsters. The Barris Kustoms team also put together Grandpa's DRAG-U-LA, which he used to win back the Munster Koach in one episode late in the first season. Building the sleek racer, however, proved to be quite complicated thanks to one strange law.
Skirting the law
The Drag-U-La was built from a real coffin — the prop team on The Munsters certainly seemed to prize authenticity — but at the time, you couldn't legally purchase a casket without a death certificate. As a result, the producers had to pull a slightly shady maneuver. This coffin was paid for in cash and left outside, allowing the Barris team to pick it up at night.
Making TV history
Beyond its special effects, The Munsters was a groundbreaking show. The characters might have been classic movie monsters, but Herman and Lily still made television history in one unique way. Herman and Lily might not have been human, at least in the conventional sense, but they were still one of the first television couples to share a bed. It was still a bit scandalous, but viewers weren't too upset.
The commercial tie-in
During the peak of the sitcom's popularity, the Munster family starred in a commercial for Cheerios. Narrated by Butch Patrick, the ad calls the cereal "the best thing since bat wings" and depicts an invigorated Herman Munster doing various activities around the house — most of which end up backfiring in hilarious slapstick fashion. Maybe he should have cut back on the size of his breakfast?
Leave it to the Munsters
Beneath its monstrous exterior, The Munsters was a classic sitcom built around the zany adventures of a single family. That actually makes sense, given the identity of the production team behind the show. The same team that produced Leave It to Beaver actually created The Munsters. On a structural level, both shows were markedly similar; that just goes to show appearances are only skin deep!
A monstrous rivalry
The Munsters was often compared to The Addams Family, another '60s sitcom depicting a horror-themed family. Some fans assume that one show was a ripoff of the other, but both projects came about independently. The Addams Family began as a New Yorker comic strip in the 1930s, while Universal began toying with cartoon shorts that served as a test run of The Munsters in the 1940s. Needless to say, there was a sense of competition between the two shows.
The ratings war
As it turned out, CBS execs rubbed their hands with glee. The Munsters consistently beat out ABC's The Addams Family in the ratings, in large part because the characters in the CBS series were based on existing, popular figures. Both programs went on to inspire many spinoffs and reboots, but there were also some serious low points mixed in.
A sudden demise
From the premiere onward, The Munsters was a smash hit. The show spawned all sorts of advertisements and merchandise, but, after two seasons and 70 episodes, production suddenly stopped. The comedy's ratings had plummeted, and so the suits at CBS had no choice but to give the show the axe. So how did things go south so quickly?
Holy Munsters, Batman!
The black-and-white sitcom, it seemed, just couldn't compete with the colorful, action-packed Batman series that had recently launched on ABC. Interestingly, that production owed a bit to The Munsters, since the same team that engineered the Koach also debuted the iconic Batmobile. But there was no way for this sitcom to dig its way out of the grave. Slowly, all the actors moved on.